County finally declared disaster area from April 19 tornado

By CHARLIE SMITH,

More than a month after a deadly tornado roared through the southern part of Marion County, the federal government on Friday declared a disaster area, opening up assistance for businesses and residents.

The U.S. Small Business Administration declaration covers Marion County and the adjacent counties of Jeff Davis, Lamar, Lawrence, Pearl River and Walthall.

Businesses and private non-profit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged real estate, equipment or other assets. Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, and they are also eligible to borrow up to $40,000 to replace or repair personal property.

Applicants can apply online by visiting the SBA’s website: disasterloanassistance.sba.gov.

The tornado struck on April 19 in Sandy Hook, Hub and Pine Burr. The storm killed one person and damaged at least 120 homes, destroying 20. The Southwest Marion Volunteer Fire Department station on Hurricane Creek Road was also leveled, and some 40,000 yards of debris was piled on the county's rights-of-way after the storm did an estimated $1.4 million in timber damage.

The Marion County Board of Supervisors had declared a local emergency on April 24.

It took 33 days to get the federal disaster declaration for Marion County. That was much longer than the nine days it took to get a disaster declaration following the April 12 tornados that struck adjacent counties north of Marion.

Gov. Tate Reeves said in a news release that he sent a letter to Administrator Jovita Carranza of the U.S. Small Business Administration requesting a disaster declaration to make low-interest disaster loans available here.

"Mississippians are strong and resilient. But they are already struggling under the weight of this pandemic. We are grateful that SBA approved our request so we can help carry some of the burden that our people are dealing with after these disastrous storms," Reeves said.

The SBA would normally open a local response center but is not doing so because of the coronavirus. It has instead started a "Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center" to help storm victims apply online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will be closed Monday for Memorial Day.

Storm victims can also call (404) 331-0333 and use extensions 2122 and 2106 for residents and 2123 for businesses. Additional information can also be obtained by emailing FOCE-Help@sba.gov.

The filing deadline for physical property damage applications is July 20, 2020, and the deadline for economic injury applications is Feb. 22, 2021.

Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20% of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter, sump pump, French drain or retaining wall to help protect property and occupants from future damage caused by a similar disaster.

Interest rates are as low as 3.75% for businesses, 2.75% for nonprofit organizations and 1.563% for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years. Loan amount and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.

Businesses and individuals may also obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), or by emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov. Completed applications should be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

“The SBA is strongly committed to providing the people of Mississippi with the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist businesses of all sizes, homeowners and renters with federal disaster loans,” said Carranza. “Getting businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority at SBA.”

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